Sunday, May 3, 2009

Most Popular (Except to his Wife)

Every now and then you get news stories appearing on successive days that complement each other in unanticipated ways. Yesterday Reuters filed a report from Naples, where Silvio Berlusconi, hardly the strongest sympathizer with the spirit of May Day, chose a May Day concert to flaunt his pride:

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who has compared himself to Jesus Christ and Napoleon, boasted on Friday that he was the world's most popular leader.

The conservative premier, in his third term in office, said opinion poll findings in his possession showed his popularity at just over 75 percent, making him far more popular than U.S. President Barack Obama -- or any other head of government.

"The opinion polls I know say that he (Obama) is at 59 percent. Only (Brazilian President Luiz Inacio) Lula tops 60 percent -- he is at 64 percent. So mine is a record high," he told reporters in Naples where he attended a May Day concert.

However, as the Book of Proverbs says, "Pride goeth before destruction;" and this morning BBC NEWS reported that the destruction of the conservative family values of Berlusconi's married life were imminent:

The wife of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has confirmed that she will file for divorce.

Veronica Lario reportedly said she could not be with a man who "consorted with minors" after her husband attended a female friend's 18th birthday party.

Ms Lario had also clashed publicly with her husband over his party's plan to choose certain female candidates for the European elections.

Apparently, this was no ordinary birthday party:

Mr Berlusconi was reported to have brought the woman a golden necklace studded with diamonds as a present.

When we take further context into account, we might see this as the first step in grooming a future politician:

Mr Berlusconi said his centre-right party was aiming to select female candidates because "we want to renew our political class with people who are cultured and well prepared".

Candidates standing for the party would be unlike the "malodorous and badly dressed people who represent certain parties in parliament", Mr Berlusconi added.

It was later announced that Barbara Matera - an actress, TV announcer and former Miss Italy contestant - was the only one of the candidates to have made the final list.

Meanwhile, last night's ABC News reported on the attempts of the Republican Party to shore up their own value system through a movement called The National Council for a New America with spokesmen (note, not "spokespersons") such as Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush. These guys might do well to look to Italy for object lessons. Effective politics is not simply about popularity, nor is it about values. In a time of crisis, the only thing that the voting public cares about is whether or not a broken system can be fixed. (Has the garbage been cleaned up in Naples yet?) If the "New America" turns out to be the old Rush Limbaugh making a public spectacle of wanting Barack Obama to fail, then one can appreciate why Arlen Specter has chosen to bail on those image-makers. In his own efforts to work across the aisle towards fixing what had been broken, he garnered scorn from fellow Republicans; so he has decided to cross the aisle in the interest of doing what needs to be done. Meanwhile, the Republicans can choose between Limbaugh's extremism and Romney's version of "Berlusconi Lite!"

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